Pet insurance helps ease pain for pets, cost for owners | ParkRecord.com

Pet insurance helps ease pain for pets, cost for owners

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

Just because they walk on all fours doesn’t mean Harley and Tye aren’t members of the family.

When Kathryn Hadfield first adopted her two Australian Shepherds, she knew having them vaccinated and routinely checked by a veterinarian would help avoid health problems. After all, she is a veterinary technician.

Because of her job, she also knew the costs that come with taking proper care of a pet. So she did what she would do for any of her loved ones she invested in health insurance.

Pet insurance is gaining popularity nationwide. For facts on the industry, many insurance companies send prospective customers to Packaged Facts, a consumer data-gathering group. According to Packaged Facts, more Americans are buying insurance to cover their pet’s routine and emergency trips to the doctor. The change is in response to rising veterinary costs, more advertising and pet owners’ growing tendency to treat their pets like family members.

"The cost of medicine is going up for animals as much as it does for humans," Hadfield said. "The costs of having to have a pet hospitalized are pretty significant, but you do it because you love them."

It is estimated that the average owner of a medium-sized dog will pay over $25,000 in food, vaccinations and other medical expenses throughout the life of the pet. The number jumps to over $35,000 if the dog has diabetes or some other chronic condition. Cats are only slightly less expensive.

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To combat rising costs, more pet owners are having their pets insured, but still not as much as in other countries.

The U.S. pet insurance business hit $160 million in revenue last year, up 25 percent from the year before. But only 2 percent of North American pet owners signed up for the insurance in 2005, Packaged Facts reported. Almost 50 percent of pet owners in Sweden have pet insurance.

Basic pet insurance plans covering general problems start at $15 per month for a dog and $10 per month for a cat. Plans that cover flea protection, cancer treatments or a reward if the pet is lost are more expensive, reaching up to $70 per month.

All breeds of cats cost the same, but as they get older they are more costly to insure, especially after age six. Costs to a dog are slightly more complicated. Costs differ depending on difference s in age and a specific breed’s hereditary issues, but not size or aggression as some may think. For example, insuring a 12-year-old bulldog is more expensive than a 2-year-old poodle. Generally, charges are $1 per month higher for every year the pet is old.

One similarity between human health insurance and pet insurance is the multitude of options and plans. For pets, there are plans only covering routine exams or vaccinations, and others covering every problem imaginable. Some plans cover 50 percent of the cost, others cover 80 percent.

"You do it because you’ve paid for it and the consistency of routine check ups will help them in the long run," Hadfield said. "As long as the condition isn’t preexisting it is pretty easy, but they only pay a certain percentage of the cost of the surgery, so it really matters how much you’re paying the doctor."

Hadfield, who has never had a major problem with either of her dogs, said the average trip to the vet costs between $70-150 per visit and that she sees 30 animals a day. Although most trips are routine, she said the active lifestyle of many Summit County residents frequently leads to more expensive problems.

"People are running and mountain biking, and playing hard with their dogs and we see a lot of (expensive procedures)," she said. "People will spend the money because the pet is a family member. When we see a dog that is 9- or 10-years-old you’d think, ‘why spend $1500 on it?’ But people here will do it. It’s just the lifestyle here of people and their pets."

Silver Creek Animal Clinic can be reached at 649-7414, White Pine Veterinary Clinic at 649-7182 and Park City Animal Clinic at 649-0710. Brochures for Pets Best Insurance and VPI Pet Insurance, two of the industry leaders, are available at each of the clinics.